Narrative perspectives

Recognising and understanding narrative perspectives in the film

Run Lola Run tells us a story. In fact, the film tells three variations of a story. However, through whose eyes do we see the events of this story? We as viewers always see the action through the eye of the camera. The camera viewpoint and the point of view of a character may be the same or the camera is an invisible “eye” for us as observers and thus our "representative" in the cinematic world. In Run Lola Run there are, as in most feature films, both viewpoints – but there is also a self-reflective playing with the conventions of these points of view and the expectations that go with them.
In this unit you can examine these perspectives in detail using two examples.

Typical of cinematic storytelling, the frequent change of perspective seems to be swapping between subjective (limited by a character’s point of view) and omniscient perspective. Sometimes the viewer sees things from the camera’s point of view, such as how characters behave in a certain place and at a certain time, what they say and how they act. This is known as the "authorial" or “omniscient” camera) and gives the viewer the impression that an authorial, omniscient narrator is looking at and showing them the action. On the other hand, we are also often given the impression that we are seeing things from the point of view of a character themselves. The shot that conveys the subjective viewpoint of a film character is thus called a "subjective shot" or "point of view shot" (or “POV” for short). A POV camera shot is often preceded by a shot of the character who looks at something that is out of the picture (a "gaze shot"). After a cut usually the POV camera then follows their gaze. The editing process, which then maintains the logic of the gaze and its direction, is called the “viewing axis connection”.

A slight digression: If you take a closer look, however, this apparently simple distinction between subjective and authoritative narration cannot be maintained.
The internal perspective must be distinguished from the external, purely physical point of view, which only conveys the visual perceptions of a film character – a setting as if seen through their eyes. An internal perspective would include a visualization of the thoughts and feelings of the character. A shot that attempts to do this is sometimes called a mindscreen. We could call this a character’s interior world – a subjective setting or scene that aims to show the viewer what a character is thinking or dreaming of. The latter is often referred to as a “dream sequence” or “dream scene”. The advantage of a this “inner world” point of view is that it allows the viewer to take in the “inner view” of the protagonist, which at the time obviously does not correspond to what they actually see (“POV shot”). Real and imaginary elements, the objective and the subjective, can merge in one setting. For example, a figure can be shown from the outside in a film (we see the character on the screen), which at first glance gives the impression that the story is being told authorially (objectivity). However, the setting has been designed by the director (see Mise-en-Scène) in such a way that it also reflects the character's inner world of feelings and thoughts (subjectivity). A shot that expresses mental or emotional subjectivity and is not a POV shot can be referred to as a “perception shot”. “Perception” here relates both to external perceptions as well as to internal perceptions of the figure. Famous examples can be found in the films of Antonioni, Bergman, Godard or Tarkovsky. An extreme form of subjective camerawork occurs when the perspective continuously occupies the gaze or point of view of the protagonist (a famous and repeatedly cited example is The Lady in the Lake, 1947). Such a sustained viewpoint has been used extremely rarely, as this type of narration seems highly artificial and has not caught on with the audience. This also restricts the possibilities of cinematic narration.

TC: 00:59:19 – 00:59:34

Task 1

On the floorplan you can schematically reproduce how the director staged the scene at the intersection of Tauroggener Straße / Osnabrücker Straße 📍.
  1. The film excerpt consists of four shots. First determine where the camera and the figures are for each setting. Move the camera in the direction in which it is filming and, if necessary, draw the direction of movement of the camera with the blue arrow (if the camera does not move, pull the arrowhead into the camera and make it disappear).
  2. Draw the people’s lines of sight with red arrows. Then decide whether the individual shots are gaze shots, subjective shots (POV) or shots from the perspective of an omniscient / authoritative camera. To do this, assign the corresponding icons.
Line of sight
Note cards
Narrative perspective
  1. Briefly explain why you perceive certain shots as a subjective point of view (POV). Also take into account the movement of the camera.
  1. Explain what this scene adds to the narrative of the film and place it in the context of the overall film plot.
  2. Tip

Task 2

Look at the following clip of Lola walking across a canal bridge, paying close attention to how your understanding of the narrative perspectives in this scene develop.

TC: 00:15:21 – 00:15:34

On the floorplan you can schematically reproduce how the director staged Lola's run across the bridge.
  1. The film excerpt consists of four shots. First determine for each shot where Lola is at the start of the shot and indicate where Lola is going with the red arrow.
  2. Do the same with the cameras. Turn the camera to where it is filming and use the blue arrow to draw the direction in which the camera is moving.
  3. Then add an icon for each of the 4 camera shots that indicates whether it is a more subjective or an objective narrative perspective.
Note cards
Narrative perspective
  1. Explain how your understanding of the first shot of this scene by considering the narrative perspective used. What expectations did the beginning of the first shot arouse in you and how were these fulfilled (or not)? Describe any confusions you may have felt using the relevant technical terms from the Key concepts: Narrative perspective info file above.
  1. Discuss the idea that the camera is always omniscient in a feature film. If necessary, give a counterexample.